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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 10. 23rd May 1973

Students Powerless in Degree Factory

page 4

Students Powerless in Degree Factory

Drawing of Diploma as toilet paper

One of the most heated discussions at NZUSA May Council was that on student representation, or, more loosely, student power. More questions were raised than answered. Confusion as to where to go from here was the main outcome.

It was generally agreed that token student representation on the decision-making administrative committees had failed to acheive much for students. Enough minor reforms had been made to keep students quiet. The failure of token students representation, it was decided, is due to the following factors:

Decisions made by small cliques

1.Students are always out-numbered on the committees on which they sit.
2.Power moved from the committees on which students sat to other committees on which students were not represented. As fast as agitation gained representation on these committees, the elusive power slipped from them. This could happen as the Vice-Chancellor has the power to place any decision that needs to be made on the agenda of any committee. When finally students are represented on all formal committees, decisions are made by secret committees or by small informal meetings of top administrators and academics. This has been the experience especially of Canterbury and Waikato. (Here after points from each university in the debate will be acknowledged by their initials in brackets).
3.Many decisions are made by committees where students are represented that are counter to students' educational interests. They are made in full committee (WU, VUW, UC) and therefore can't be divulged by students representatives to the mass of students. If the decisions were to be divulged it would probably result in the exclusion of students from the committee, or in the decision being made informally by a secret committee and student representatives wouldn't find out about it.

Leaders divorced from ordinary students

4.As student reps are either unaware of anti-student decisions as they are made by secret select committees, or they can't divulge them, the student leaders lose credibility with the mass of students. (WU, UC, VUW) The students leaders have been co-opted to the top of the hierarchy. As the committees don't make major changes which benefit the students, student leaders seem no different from other committee members in the eyes of the ordinary students. Students leaders, who are often elected on a platform of making major reforms, lose their credibility.

Thus, when they are co-opted on to these committees, student leaders lose their contact with ordinary students. As they are a minority on the committee they can't force changes without popular student support. But by being on the committee, and being unable to divulge information, this support is lost. The student leaders can't help raise the awareness of the student to gain that support, as the majority of apolitical students see student politics as being part of the establishment. (UC, OU, VUW, WU)

5.Students are generally apolitical. Their politicised student leaders are lost to them; therefore, the leadership role of student leaders can't be fulfilled as they can't politicise the students. But the politicisation of students can't come from any other direction as the students' minds have been 'colonised'.

Students' Minds 'Colonised'

The mind of the student is 'colonised' with the values and ideology of the present system by the contents of what they are taught, and the method by which they are taught. The content of lectures is often an ideological prop justifying the present order, especially in Law, Arts and Commerce faculties. Courses mostly deal with the operations of the existing order in an abstract and theoretical manner; assumptions are not critically examined in the light of New Zealand social practice.

The method of the transmission of knowledge is based on an assumption of the ignorance of the student and his lack of experience related to the subject. As a consequence, the students role is a passive uninitiating role of inferiority. The teacher's role is one of superiority, initiative and fountain-head of knowledge. Given that much of the content of lectures is abstract, and divorced from applicability to New Zealand, often the student only learns what he does: passivity, following orders, accepting the authority of "superiors' because of their supposed superior knowledge, and questioning only within clearly defined assumptions. These traits are at the core of the students' apolitical nature.

Cartoon about student riots

As students have little or no control over course content, course methods and staff appointments, then students have no control over their education. Therefore, the minds of students will continue to be 'colonised' and they will continue to be apolitical. (VUW)

Radical teachers ineffective

6.University is the end of a process of mis-education. The role of the teacher and students has already been defined by many years of schooling. Therefore, the radical teacher who questions the assumptions of his/her field has little effect as students are unwilling or unable to adopt a critical attitude. They accept what is given for exam regurgitation as this is what they have previously been trained to do. In accepting this most do not try to understand and apply the knowledge to their own society and lives. Therefore, the radical teacher only has a politicising impact of a few in any given class. (VUW)
7.Class reps in departments and faculties have failed to understand points 5 and 6 and have therefore had little effect in making the university more 'educational'. Often class reps are still a token and regarded by fellow students as a joke, especially at the important Stage I level. This is because class reps don't know what is required of them and because they don't know most of the students in the class. (AU) As Stage 1 class reps fail to be effective the chances for latter years are correspondingly lowered. The course assumptions are dealt with at the Stage 1 level and the mind further on the path of 'colonisation' at the end of it.

Proposals for student action

On the criteria of gaining for the student a better education, student representation has been worse than useless. Unfortunately, although the problem is common to most NZ universities, the strategy and tactics required to meet the problem are uncertain and found little agreement between universities. The following suggestions were made:
1.Withdraw student reps. This would put politicised student leaders more in touch with ordinary students. The act of withdrawal would help show tokenism for the farce it is, student leaders would be free to divulge all they know. (VUW. UC, WU)
2.A critique of course contents should be made available to students at the beginning of the year through (i) publications such as anti-calender, (ii) alternative universities, Especially during orientation, (iii) by lecture 'disrupters' (OU, AU, VUW, UC)
3.A critique of the 'pacifying nature of course methods is required so that students are aware of this. This can be carried out by the same avenues as in no. 2. The alternative university should not use the same teaching methods as the lecture. It should be carried out on the basis of dialogue in small groups, and always be related to the experiences of the student.
4.A critique of the power structure of the university in NZ needs to be undertaken so that students can see how the people who control the university control course structure, content and teaching methods. In this way students will become aware of who is 'colonizing' their minds.

Choke the University Committees

5.Clog up the committees with work so that nothing gets done. Pray for increasing pressure and an explosion. The objection to this is that the administration waits for a more pliable student executive next year. (UC)
6.Improve the class rep system and make class reps aware of mind 'colonization'. However this is still tokenism at a decentralised level. It may help increase student awareness. (AU)
7.Set up alternative full time courses which are more popular than the official ones. The department is then forced to create a course to cater for the demand to save face. (AU) The objection to this proposal is that at many universities the pressure of official work is so great that only the aware few would attend. Also, in that teaching methods are the same, and the content is more attractive only because of the use of slides etc., this method will still fail to raise student awareness. It will make the university more 'fun', but not more educative.

Need for study of power structure

If student are to get an education out of the university, instead of the present mis-education, then much information needs to be gathered. This information relates to tactics 2, 3, and 4. Especially important is the knowledge of the power structure of the university — the influence of business and government in the university. The VUW Student Association Education Officer is making an intensive study of the university power structure and would appreciate assistance or information.

The problem of tokenism is only a symptom of the greater problem of the anti-educational nature of our schooling and university systems. Rather than providing a situation in which the student can acheive social awareness, the student's mind is colonized. As the majority are unaware, the control of social destiny cannot be in the hands of the majority, and in the common interest.. It is the creation of unaware apolitical students that is at the basis of the problems faced by students in the institutions of miseducation.

By Graeme Clarke